More Parklets Popping Up Around San Francisco

Deepistan National Parklet

When I last wrote about parklets in July of 2011, there were fourteen parklets in San Francisco. The city now claims 31 parklets and counting, with 39 in various stages of review. There has been a large demand for parklets in San Francisco, as evident by the amount of applications that the City Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program has received during its three issuances for request for proposals. Parklets, small urban pocket parks, have transformed parking spaces into public places throughout San Francisco. They are designed to provide outdoor space for residents and visitors to sit, relax and enjoy the city around them. Parklets are often an extension of the sidewalk, and take up one to two parking spots. They can be permanent or temporary, depending on the location. The parklet movement has now spread to Oakland, Long Beach, Philadelphia and Vancouver.

How it Began

The idea for parklets sprouted in 2005 out of PARKing Day, the annual fall day when residents reclaim a parking space for the day, by rolling out Astroturf, chairs, tables and plants to create a temporary park. In March 2010, the first city approved parklet was built in front of Café Mojo on Divisadero Street and it was then that the city’s love affair with parklets began.

The Pluses of Parklets

A parklet’s diminutive size allows it to be built much more quickly, cheaply and with less red tape than a traditional park while still providing some public outdoor space. Often parklets act as visual and physical buffers between the street and the sidewalk and as places for people to congregate. Parklets provide businesses and non-profits a place to encourage streetlife by offering seating, greenery, bike parking, etc. Parklets beautify and increase the walkability in San Francisco's limited sidewalk space by affording more space for pedestrians on congested sidewalks. The best part is that the parklets are often community driven, being created in places where people already have been congregating.

Research in Support of Parklets

San Francisco’s Great Streets Project conducted a before and after study of the Mojo Parklet and found that after the parklet was built several activities increased. There was a 37% increase in pedestrian traffic on weekday evenings, a 13% increase in pedestrian traffic for all periods, and a 30% increase in people standing or sitting in the area. The Great Streets Project is about to conduct a similar study of 9 additional parklets at various places around San Francisco.

Concerns about loss of parking spots

Parklets reduce the already limited number of parking spots in the neighborhood. But even on streets where multiple parklets have been built, only a small amount of space is actually being transformed – only 2.5% of regular parking spots on Columbus Avenue are parklets, and 1.6% on Valencia Street.

Concerns about noise and loitering

The parklet rules try to establish a safe, peaceful environment for everyone, include neighbors. Most of the seating is designed in a way to discourage sleeping, and smoking and alcohol are not permitted. The park sponsor, or permit holder, is responsible for maintaining the parklet and must have liability insurance.

Public Use

To ensure that parklets remain public, nearby restaurants are not allowed to provide table service or use the parklet as storage space. There were some initial concerns that the parklets were perceived as extended seating space only for customers of the cafes or restaurants that adjoin the parklet. Parklets contribute to the amount of public space in the city, where people can linger and aren’t forced to buy something.

Examples by Neighborhood

Eight of the city’s 31 parklets were funded through Pavement to Parks; the other 23 were funded by businesses owners, non-profits and a resident. Although the Mission and North Beach neighborhoods have the highest concentration of parklets, each parklet reflects the unique nature of its location.

Union Square

In 2011 the largest parklet was installed, The Powell Street Promenade, a two-block long installation, sponsored by Audi.

The Mission

Deepistan National Parklet

Deep Jawa, who lives on Valencia Street, was the first resident to sponsor a parklet. His parklet has unique dinosaur theme and is fondly called Deepistan National Parklet. The name comes from his nickname Deep, and is called a National Parklet to ensure that the parklet is used as public green space. For a Mission resident like Deep, this is an opportunity for him to physically manifest his values. It didn't involve as much sacrifice on his part because he doesn’t own a car. Only 50% Mission residents use their required garages to store cars, so even more potential for residential parklets exists.

Also in the Mission District is the Fabric8 Parklet Gallery. This parklet is a venue for public art installation, a “canvas” where art gallery meets the street, bringing art to the community and the community to the art. This parklet will feature rotating one-year exhibits of kid-friendly public art, from installation to murals to landscaped plants and greenery.

The Tenderloin

When this post was written, two parklet permits were arleady approved in this neighborhood for construction in 2012. These parklets will provide public space for a neighborhood that sorely lacks it as Boeddeker Park is closed for renovation. Also in the Tenderloin, Farm:Table, a popular restaurant, is asking customers to help fund a parklet in front of its storefront at 754 Post Street. There is also a parklet in front of Paradise Massage on Jones Street, perhaps used more frequently by the Café next door than by massage patrons, but who knows?

Creating Your Own Parklet

Any San Francisco resident may petition the city to install a parklet. It can't be on a corner, blocking a red zone or fire hydrant, and it can't be on streets where the speed limit exceeds 25 miles per hour, but otherwise any suitable location will do as long as it has demonstrated (written) support from the surrounding community. The parklet can only extend 6 feet beyond the curb, and it must be framed by "planters, railing or cabling" for safety purposes. Permanent seating is preferred to the exclusive use of movable chairs. Greenery is a plus. So are "high quality, durable and beautiful" materials. No tropical hardwoods, though!

If you do get approved for a parklet, anticipate costs of $ $650-$980, perhaps more if parking meters are removed. There is also a $221 annual fee and liability insurance. The cost of construction varies from parklet to parklet, but a $20,000 budget should probably be enough. These costs may sound high, but they are much cheaper and faster than building a traditional park.

I'm looking forward to seeing even more parklets next year.

More Parklets Popping Up Around San Francisco
The Parklet trend is spreading from San Francisco to other cities in the Bay area, in the U.S. and around the world

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